Sunday, March 01, 2015

Do You Feel Successful?

One of my employees resigned this month.  As we were going over her exit paperwork she blurted out, “I never felt successful here.” I was flabbergasted, “What do you mean you WEREN’T SUCCESSFUL HERE?” She had been an exemplary employee and extremely successful. 

“I couldn’t keep up with the paperwork. I’d go home every night and worry about the piles of un-posted invoices. I never felt successful.”
This employee had worked at our company for twelve years as an Accounts Payable Associate. She managed the payables for eight of our stores. Invoices came in daily.  Having ALL of the invoices posted at any one time was an unattainable goal.  She would never be 100% caught up. 

Several times over the last couple of years, she’s complained about her piles of unfinished paperwork and I’ve always discredited her concerns especially when she suggested hiring additional staff.  As long as she had the previous month’s invoices posted (and she always did) by the time I closed that month’s financial statements I considered her keeping up.  Instead I would recommend more efficient ways she could perform her job.
A few weeks ago, just the two of us were in on a Saturday, she took this as an opportunity to discuss her workload and our company’s plans to build a new store this year.  This would mean even more work for my employee.  I again discussed the changes she needs to make in her position to take advantage of technology and become more efficient. I offered to help her. She still uses an outdated version of our accounting software that does not support some of the new features required for her job. She asked if we would consider hiring additional staff.  I again told her no.

The following Monday she resigned. She plans on working for her son at his business.
This employee hates change with a passion and pushes back when our company requires her to do so, but this does not mean she wasn’t successful.  As she was about to leave for good I asked her to come into my office, but was interrupted by our company’s President so I included him in my conversation.  I told him she hadn’t felt successful at our company and the two of us rattled off all the reasons why she was a success.  I could count on one hand the mistakes she had made.  She never voided checks while her predecessor would hand my boss several voided checks daily. We received more returned checks mailed to the wrong vendor in one day under her predecessor than during the entire 12 years this employee worked at our company. Our President chimed in with how she got along with everyone (he feels this is more important than her accuracy).  He thanked her for handling all of those irate payable vendors during the recession with such diplomacy and pleasantness.  He then told her if she ever decided she wanted to come back he would find a spot for her. 

I hope she left feeling like a success. 
Personally, I currently feel more successful than I have in the past.  My husband’s semi-retirement at the end of last year has freed-up my time so I can devote more of it to work without worrying about cleaning and errands.  As much as I complained about the work conference I attended last month, I returned with new ideas and new energy. I’m also happy with my current blog challenge to live healthy on a budget.  I had been floundering in search of a niche that feels like my purpose and think this may be it.

How about you?  Do you feel successful? Why or why not?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

5 Things I Learned From my Mother’s Audiologist

I recently accompanied my mom on her appointment with an audiologist to be fitted for new hearing aids.  My siblings and I have had many discussions as to which doctor appointments require one of us to attend and which do not.   Normally, accompaniment to an audiologist appointment wouldn’t be a necessity, but since my mom was to make a substantial prepayment on new hearing aids I decided to tag along.  I am so glad I did.  Here a few of the things I learned:

My mom can’t hear:
The audiologist had my mom remove her current hearing aids so she could test and clean them.  After she left the room, I began talking to my mom and quickly realized she was unable to hear a word I said.  She didn’t even acknowledge I was speaking. It was eye-opening to witness how severe my mom’s hearing loss actually is.

The cost of hearing aids are not covered by Medicare:
My mom has one year of medical benefits remaining on her retiree medical plan. This policy will contribute $2,000 towards the purchase of a pair of hearing aids. Her remaining out- of- pocket cost will be $1,900. Since hearing aids are not covered by Medicare, we decided she should purchase the hearing aids now.  

Hearing aid life expectancy is 5 to 7 years:
My mom’s current hearing aids are 7 years old.  One of them is cracked (she told me later she had tried to clean wax out of it with a needle and tweezers).  Also, hearing aid technologies have become quite sophisticated, they are now considered mini-computers.  With her advanced hearing loss she needs to take advantage of new technologies.

The bricks in hearing aid drying boxes need to be replaced every two-three months:
This was completely new to me:  My mom currently stores her hearing aids in a drying box when she’s not wearing them.  This box is equipped with drying bricks that absorb moisture from the interior of her hearing aids prolonging their life. The bricks eventually become saturated with moisture and need to be replaced – typically every two to three months.  My mom stopped replacing these bricks a couple of years ago in an effort to cut expenses.   

Hearing aids are just that – an aid:
According to the audiologist, the biggest misconceptions family members have when getting their loved one hearing aids is that they will restore hearing to normal levels or completely correct hearing loss.  Hearing aids are an AID to assist patients with hearing; hearing will not be 100% normal with hearing aids.  

There are additional devices included with the new hearing aids to assist with hearing.  One of my mom’s biggest complaints is not being able to hear during large family gatherings.  Her new Phonak Naida Q50 hearing aids come with a remote mic.  She can hand this mic, which is wirelessly connected to her hearing aids, to a person who is talking or place it in the center of the table.  She’s tried both, but her favorite use for the mic is to set it in front of her TV speakers so she no longer has to blast her TV.  In the past, she has received complaints from neighbors when she blares her TV after 9:00 p.m.  
In conclusion:

My mom is happy with her new hearing aids and her hearing has improved substantially.  Even my siblings noticed she doesn’t ask them to repeat themselves as often.  The cleaning system is easier- she no longer has to wipe off excess wax every morning. And it’s cheaper – her new drying box doesn’t require bricks. Getting the proper fit wasn’t easy. The mold in one of her hearing aids needed to be remade twice before it felt comfortable. Her only current complaint is a slight ringing tone in one of her ears.

As to what doctor’s appointments a family member should accompany her on, it appears all of them.  I find it interesting she choose not to replace the dryer bricks in an effort to cut costs.  A quick Google search indicates this decision saved her $40-60 a year.  If I would have known I'd have gladly purchased these for her.  I wonder what other cost-saving decisions she has made.
Do you accompany your parents on doctor appointments? If so, have you been surprised by something you have learned?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

How Much Should a Couple Spend on Groceries Each Month?

photo credit: Farmers' market haul, 2008-11-29 via photopin (license)

One of the first comments a friend made after beginning the diet her doctor recommended (eat predominantly lean proteins, fruits and vegetables to lose weight) was that she was spending too much money on groceries.  She complained of wasting food. Her husband and son were refusing to eat vegetables with every meal, she was growing tired of salads and many of the expensive fruits she was purchasing were spoiling before she had a chance to eat them.  

I couldn’t help but think of her as I began my live healthy on a budget challenge. Was my healthier diet going to cost more? I hadn’t tracked my monthly grocery spending in the past, but estimate I spent an average of $600 a month on groceries for my husband and me.  Note: we rarely eat out and always pack a lunch for work. Could I spend less than that and still eat healthy?

To determine the average monthly food expenditures for a couple I consulted the Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average for December 2014.  The monthly low-cost plan for a family of 2 aged 51 – 70 was $478.50.  I used this information to set a monthly grocery spending budget of $500 or under.

Unfortunately in January we spent $605.  I didn’t keep track of what we bought, but know the $605 included coffee which my husband insists belongs in the grocery budget. Also, in January he determined the back and chest soreness he was experiencing was due to acid reflux. After researching an acid reflux friendly diet he purchased pre-packaged cut-up vegetables at full price and other items that wouldn’t aggravate his already enflamed esophagus.  In addition, some of the items purchased earlier in the month (coffee, tomato-based products and citrus) he was now unable to eat.

Our February grocery spending has been more in line with our budget - to date we have spent $194. I now attempt to buy only fresh fruits and vegetables that are inexpensive or on sale. Asparagus was the only fresh food on sale this week that interested us. In addition, I purchased dried peas, apples, yellow squash and carrots – none of which were on sale.

Our menu for the week is as follows:

Today: Asparagus Frittata from Maria A. Bella’s book The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Acid Reflux Diet

Monday: Split Pea and Wild Rice Soup from Leslie L. Cooper’s Low-Fat Living Cookbook: 250 Easy, Great-Tasting Recipes

Tuesday: Leftovers

Wednesday: Apple-Sautéed Turkey Tenderloin also from Maria A. Bella’s book The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Acid Reflux Diet and a vegetable stir-fry.

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: Coconut Panko Shrimp from Patricia Raymond’s Acid Reflux Diet and Cookbook For Dummies with stir-fried vegetables.

For the rest of the month I am going to explore using mushrooms as a replacement for meat in a recipe or two and eating more ancient grains such as barley, quinoa and falafel. My niece who is a vegetarian and a poor college student tells me barley is a good source of protein and is easy to digest. Also, I hope including grains in my salads will help make them more interesting.

How much do you spend on groceries each month?  Do you have any tips to eat healthy and not break the budget?

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Healthy Reads – February 2015

So far this year I’ve managed to finish three books:

Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town by Beth Macy:
I’ve been reading this one since Nonfiction November. Considering, I spent so much time with the Bassets - this book chronicles three generations of the Basset family and their furniture empire in Basset, Virginia - I feel it deserves its own post. Also, I’m in the market for new furniture, so I’m thinking I’ll save my review until after my shopping experience.  

French Women Don't Get Facelifts: The Secret of Aging with Style & Attitude by Mireille Guiliano
This book was disappointing. I was looking for a dissection and analysis of French beauty and aging beliefs; instead I got one big ramble of Guiliano’s beauty, diet, anti-aging, and health routines.  Also, I find her writing voice to be irritating and preachy. I did enjoy the section where she provided a list of women who are aging with attitude. Just maybe, despite not particularly enjoying the book, Guiliano inspired me to explore aging with attitude in a future blog challenge.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
This was an interesting read.  It may not have helped me change my habits - yet, but the chapters titled, “How Target Knows What You Want Before You Do” and the “Saddleback Church and the Montgomery Bus Boycott” were fascinating. Also, I can’t stop thinking about how Harrah’s Entertainment (Now Caesars Entertainment) preyed on Angie Bachmann’s gambling addiction. It was despicable. If you are interested in learning more about habits, how companies use your habits and (private information) to manipulate your spending or if you wish to change a habit I recommend this book.

My reading plans for February are to:

Participate in

Foodie February hosted by the travel the world in books challenge.

The foodie books I plan to read are:

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch--Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foodsby Jennifer Reese
This one comes recommended by Jennifer Ludwigsen. I’ve read 150 pages to date and as much as I disliked Mireille Guiliano’s writing voice I love Jennifer Reese’s. She is funny, relatable and makes me feel as if I’m sitting at her kitchen counter while she talks about cooking and recipes. Reese created an experiment for herself and her family after losing her job. She sets out to determine: When is homemade better? And cheaper? This book is about her findings. Though most of her recipes don’t qualify as healthy and I can’t use them for my live healthy on a budget challenge, I am learning about ingredients, cooking and what not to buy.

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller
I have an interest in olive oil and have attended olive oil tastings both in California and here in Wisconsin. After hearing Tom Mueller's interview on NPR I attempted to read this book - twice. I love reading a book that discloses a good scandal or fraud, but in the past haven't managed to get past the first 100 pages. The book is disorganized and repetitive. I keep waiting for Mueller to provide the meat of his story, but instead he takes me in circles.

When I noticed The Kitchen Reader Book Club has selected this book as their February book club pick, I decided to give it one more chance. I really want to learn the truth about the olive oil industry. I am starting on page 100. Wish me luck.

In other reading news:
I’ve been reading Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs for the Healthy Lifestyle Reading Challenge:
Jacobs has created a challenge for himself – to become the healthiest man in the world. This book fits in perfectly with my live healthy on a budget challenge. I enjoy Jacobs and his escapades despite finding him to be a bit of an oddball. He reminds me of Clark Howard, neither are afraid to embarrass themselves in the pursuit of their goals.

Have your read any of these books? What were your thoughts? Do you have any books to recommend for my Healthy Lifestyle Challenge or Foodie February challenge? What are you reading in February?

Sunday, February 01, 2015

January Healthy Living Recap

When my 2015 challenge to live healthy on a budget was in the planning stages I didn’t want it to be a losing weight or a diet challenge. My belief is healthy living is about more than how much you weigh and includes mental, spiritual and physical health in addition to healthy eating.

Here is my January "Healthy Living on a Budget" challenge recap:

Physical health:
One of my main goals of this challenge was to strengthen my core to prevent injuries during exercise which I alluded to in this post. Prior to the challenge, I asked a fitness instructor to recommend an exercise I could perform January 1st to measure my current core strength. The plan is to perform this same exercise again on December 31st to see how I’ve improved.  She recommended the walking push up.

Here is a demonstration:

On January 1st I was able to do 7 walking push-ups.  Unfortunately January did not end up being about increasing my core strength or about getting healthy, it was about working – A LOT. In December my company set a sales record booking almost four times our normal monthly sales. Add in a conference our HR director insisted I attend that was a five hour drive away and preparing for our year-end audit and you can see why this accountant spent most of her evenings and weekends working and not exercising – or reading or blogging.
Today just for fun I again tried to see how many walking push-ups I could do – I managed eight.

I want to point out I am not a fan of push-up challenges where you increase the number of push-ups you do each day. I blame this challenge for the elbow tendinitis I experienced a couple of years ago and now refuse to partake in repetitive daily challenges.

Mental health:
In past years, January and to some extent February were not good mental health months for me. My increased work load along with the lousy Wisconsin weather tend to make me depressed.  This year was better.  My husband semi-retired in November. Having him home to run errands, take care of our dogs, clean and cook has helped immensely allowing me to focus my time almost entirely on my work.

Spiritual health:
I did manage a couple of winter walks with my husband and dogs on Saturday afternoons.  Spending time in nature always helps my spirit.  In addition, we attended the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18 featuring pianist Richard Goode. Richard Goode was incredible and this was my favorite symphony concert to date.
Healthy eating:
This one was more challenging. I’ve been reading The Complete Beck Diet for Life: The Five-Stage Program for Permanent Weight Loss by Judith Beck and tried to implement her success skills during January.  Most of them ended up being failures:

Weigh yourself daily – I’ve done this for years.  Seeing the number no longer motivates me.

Eat slowly while sitting down and enjoying every bite:
I love this one.  How many times do I eat the brownie from the lunch room while walking back to my office or stand over the kitchen counter binging on snacks when I get home from work. I tried this – I really did, but lasted two days maybe three before I was standing over the counter snacking again.
Keep a food journal:
This is such a great idea and also recommended as a dieting strategy that works in Charles Duhigg's book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. I kept a food journal for one week and one day.  I became bored with the process.  Even re-reading the entries was boring.  I did learn I tend to eat every two hours, planning my food works best and that I comfort myself with food when I am stressed or overworked.

Skills to deal with food pushers:
This was an epic fail while attending the conference.  One of my fellow conference attendees was a food pusher: this chicken wing has your name on it and here finish off these nachos. You are supposed to say, “No, thank you.” Eating and drinking too much at the conference most likely contributed to my:

I gained one pound during January.
Goals for February – plan my food, set and stick to a healthy food budget, get back into regular workouts at my gym rotating between cardio and strength and hopefully find more time for me.  Next year I am adding how to live healthy when you are time strapped to the challenge.

How did you live healthy during January?  What are your healthy goals for February?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

How to Prevent Work-Out Injuries

While I was on fitness hiatus following my bunion surgery, my gym added Les Mill’s high impact body attack to the lineup.  My gym buddies raved about this class; some began taking it several times a week claiming it was the best workout our gym offered. Unfortunately, seven months later when I was finally able to return to impact classes my buddies were no longer in attendance.  They now refer to this class as cheerleading on steroids and attribute it to their newly acquired knee, hip, feet and back pain.



The last thing I wanted to do was injure myself.  I have experienced four exercise related injuries in the past, each one taking months to heal, but I had to try this class at least once.
I let the instructor know prior to class I was a newbie, so she provided modifications throughout the class.  I chose the lower impact movement for almost every exercise and still found it to be one of the most intense workouts I’ve ever had. At one point, I thought if I’m not careful I’m going to puke or pee my pants. Oddly I did like this class and wanted to take it again.

Afterwards I told the instructor about my friends who claim body attack was hard on their joints and that I feared injury.  

Her recommendation:
She believes I will remain injury free if I continue to modify the exercises until my core is stronger. Working out with a weak core causes some exercisers to not align their body properly causing awkward, jarring movements that put extra strain on muscles, ligaments and tendons. This is most likely what happened to my friends.

A few weeks later this same instructor pulled me aside after class and told me I was the one she was speaking to when she kept saying straighten your back and tighten your stomach muscles during the plank exercise. My stomach had been sagging causing me to arch my lower back. This she claims is what leads to lower back pain. She then demonstrated a plank beginning on her knees sucking in her belly button and contracting her glutes.

By Jaykayfit (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
On this particular day I had been extremely tired, but forced myself to attend class anyway.  My body was too tired to keep my stomach engaged causing improper form.  Honestly, even when I’m not tired I rarely perform a plank with proper form.  I’m always in a rush; drinking water, arranging my towel and mat – then scrambling to get in the plank position to keep up with the class. No wonder my plank is always out of alignment.  
This was an eye-opening moment – I was injuring myself because I wasn’t listening to my body, wasn’t using proper form, wasn’t modifying like I was supposed to and was most likely performing too many reps.

This reminded me of the friend who injured her knee working out in a boot camp class.  Her orthopedic told her he wasn’t fond of boot camp classes, would never recommend someone begin an exercise program with one and felt exercisers over the age of 45 should not participate in them.  His preferred method of exercise was walking.  He said if you walked every day for 30 minutes and maintained a healthy diet (fruit, vegetables and proteins) you would lose weight over time.  He would recommend adding additional low-impact exercises only after a patient walked every day for several months.

As for me – I’ve stopped taking the body attack class.  My gym now offers only one evening session and it is not at a convenient time. January has been extremely busy at work so I’ve missed most of my fitness classes except for an occasional Zumba. I did take a half-hour strength class last week. I performed the entire pushup and plank series on my knees. I feel like I’m starting over again, but this time I’m listening to my body and paying attention to my alignment.

How do you prevent workout injuries?


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Reading to Understand Life’s Transitions Featured on Be Our Guest Fridays

This week I was delighted to be the guest blogger on Tanya at Mom's Small Victories and Helen at My Novel Opinion's sites for their #BeOurGuestFridays feature. In my post I share how I read to understand life's transitions. Head on over to learn the books that have helped me the most.  Don't forget to let me know what books have helped you understand life's transitions.